Tech: OpenJaw’s t-Retail gets flying start

Posted: May 9th, 2012

Chief executive Kieron Branagan explains why customer profiling and ancillary sales are important for online growth.

The boundaries are blurring. Airline websites have sold more than just flights for a long time, but now they’re stepping up the pressure.

Ryanair, for example, has launched a new hotel price comparison website, with HotelsCombined; bmibaby launched package holidays in October 2011, in association with Co-op Holidays; and in November 2010 easyJet and the Lowcost Group created easyJet Holidays

And now OpenJaw is offering a sophisticated approach to help travel brands, and in particular airlines, sell more holidays online, with its new t-Retail platform.

At the end of last month, the company announced Russian airline S7 as its first client, with another three airlines to be announced soon, marking its transition from technology provider to e-commerce company.

“We enable brands to sell online, with the best shopping experience. We provide a seamless platform,” declares chief executive Kieron Branagan, echoing ebooker’s Rob Define and his pursuit of the “seamless experience” across all devices (TTG March 15, 2012).

With British Airways, for example, its white-label platform since 2009 has helped the airline “sell everything but the flight”, and led to “an upswing in ancillary sales” according to Branagan. Now it has launched t-Retail to help travel-sellers grow their online sales.

The t-Retail concept

The t-Retail platform is built upon four principles: inspire (acquire site visitors by curating compelling and unique content and promotions); personalise (adjusting search results and product offers by leveraging customer history and insight); convert (using shopping cart, cross-selling, up-selling, switch-selling and dynamic packaging); and differentiate (deeper integration into suppliers for unique inventory or rates).

“T-Retail is like Amazon,” Branagan says. “We take the customer on a journey. We upsell, and use words like ‘combine and save’ at the check out.”

The focus is very much on ancillaries, and t-Retail looks at the travel brands’ previous customers’ habits. Branagan cites data mining, purchasing behaviours, extracting insights – and occasionally a “robot” that builds targeted promotions.

It also allows its partners to promote deals on social media. Nothing new there, with platforms such as already available (TTG April 26), but Branagan says t-Retail has an edge, as the travel brand can promote a “real dynamic package” that can be modified by the user. “And when the consumer clicks on it, they go into the booking flow,” says Branagan. “It’s a mechanism for distressed inventory, and there’s a lot of last-minute stock out there.”

One area of concern, however, is the actual payment model. The idea is to keep that user on a single platform for everything – but any “redirect is a conversion killer”. In the UK, Verify by Visa is one payment model, but in other countries there can be up to nine payment models to go through, taking the user away from the site.

The payment models are designed to prevent fraud, but Branagan says OpenJaw always tracks behaviour, and works with payment providers.

But is t-Retail a threat to travel agents, who have to battle with airlines for business more? Branagan says it is inevitable: “Where is travel going? Everyone wants to sell everything and airlines are unbundling.

“It’s about 100% customer control. Someone arrives on the site to buy the flight, but they can buy the entire holiday.”

There is also no denying that ancillaries are key for all players in the travel industry. Selling a flight tends to earn 6% commission, but ancillaries are higher, at 12-15%. “Ancillaries are a positive for the business, and we aim to put them all on one platform,” Branagan says.

The next step

T-Retail took 18 months, and €3 million, to develop, so there is a focus on getting more customers onto the platform, to recoup the investment. Components such as the profile manager were expensive to build – and so too is the cost of ongoing configuration and “keeping the engine running 24/7”, Branagan says.

For now, the UK is an important market, and following its tie-up with AirTrade, which can act as a contact centre
and deal with hotel contracting for smaller t-Retail customers, it’s aiming to work with a lot more travel brands – airlines or agents.

What is OpenJaw?

Headquartered in Dublin, OpenJaw has 140 staff, with regional offices in Madrid, Berlin, Dallas and Moscow. It already provides white-label booking platforms for the likes of British Airways, Monarch and Etihad (recently adding 13 languages to the Abu Dhabi-based carrier’s front end of the booking engine).

Further afield, it provides the booking platform for the American Automobile Association (51 million members and
counting) and Air Miles in Canada, which, it claims to have helped shift 70% of sales online since summer 2010.